The controversy over the Obama administration’s mandates requiring all health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives has been raging for three weeks now. Last Friday, President Obama “accommodated” employers with religious and/or moral objections to the mandate by proposing an accounting gimmick. Under this “accommodation,” employers with religious or conscience objections to contraceptives would not be forced to offer them to employees, but the insurance companies would be required to provide contraceptives to employees “free of charge.” As if the mandate didn’t insult religious institutions already, the “accommodation” insults the intelligence of the American people. After all, when is the last time your insurance company gave you a free lunch?
Through this bogus “accommodation,” the White House, aided by their media allies and dissidents who claim to speak for the Church, have effectively shifted the paradigm of the debate from being about a violation of freedom of religion and the Constitution to one about Bishops and pro-life politicians wanting to force women to conform to their religious values. As former Clinton pollster and political strategist Dick Morris hypothesized, this was a politically calculated move from the start, beginning with George Stephanopolous’ out-of-the-blue question to GOP presidential candidates about whether or not states could constitutionally ban contraception. Thus the narrative that the Catholic Church seeks to impose its values on America and ban contraception-all part of a grand design thought up in conjunction with pro-life presidential candidates.
The current fight over the contraceptive mandate stems from our culture, inasmuch as culture forms our politics. Our society is awash in competing secular ideologies and philosophies claiming to lead to human happiness and liberation. With supreme court rulings and the passage of laws over the years that run contrary to the common good and human dignity, our culture, and indeed our politics, have abandoned a society rooted in the promotion of human dignity and embraced one that seeks only the right for each man to define right and wrong for himself. Thus, today’s government abandons the first amendment in order to promote evil as good.
Politics aside, the controversy comes just as my 9th grade Catechism class is embarking on a six-week study of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, adapted for teens. In a catechesis spanning five years, the former Pope sought to re-establish the lost notion of human dignity and true love through his weekly audiences. What Pope John Paul II sought to counter was the culture of objectification, selfishness, and relativism that had taken hold of the world during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
In 1930, the Episcopal church was the first to move towards the acceptance of contraceptives, and over time, the other Protestant denominations followed suit. At the time, even Mahatma Ghandi had preached against birth control, as it allowed us to throw self-discipline and control over our desires to the wind.
In 1962, “the pill” was released to the market. Invented by a Catholic in an attempt to avoid violating Church teachings on condoms, in 1968 Pope Paul VI released Humanae Vitae, reiterating the Vatican’s teaching against contraception and reaffirming the self-giving of marital union. The day after the release of Paul VI’s encyclical, the New York Times featured a full-page ad with the signatures of many American Bishops who publicly rebuked the Vatican. Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was and is a lesson that seeks to bring the culture back to a view of sexuality rooted in human dignity after decades of attempts to erode the true nature of human dignity.
In a culture that views marriage as a contract lasting only as long as it is convenient, a culture entertained by an industry saturated with sex, and a utilitarian, consequence-free view of sexuality and human dignity, the Theology of the Body curriculum that my students are exploring must seem rather radical, and perhaps even avant-garde to the second generation to grow up in a world of “sexual liberation.”
In the 50s and 60s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was shameful; today it is entertainment and federally-subsidized. Witness the glamorization of what we should be ashamed of in shows such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and pregnant.” We constantly consume sexually explicit advertising and entertainment that glorifies what was once taboo, and yet we perennially lament the state of our youth, the prevalence of sexual activity among teens, and the breakdown of social mores.
Our culture glorifies the debauched while it views tradition and faith with suspicion. In contradistinction, TOB promotes a resounding “YES!” to the dignity of man and our right to true love, not an objectified use of women and men for self-gratification. TOB affirms the inherent good of men and women as they were created for each other in the image of God, and the gift of sexuality that He willed as good to us. It promotes the dignity of marriage not to the detriment of homosexuals, but to say that sexuality outside that which God has ordered does not fulfill the dignity of the person.
This TOB curriculum is providing a radical alternative to the “sex ed” my students receive at school, which promotes the view that we are all objects for the purpose of pleasure; that morality or religious values held by our parents are a detriment to our capacity for self-determination and prevents us from defining happiness on our own terms. But as the TOB for Teens video tells us, the aftermath of casual sex outside of marriage is devoid of respect for the dignity of the human person, and is filled with disappointment and pain. In a refreshing change of course, my students seem to be eager to grasp the idea that no one is an object; we are all subjects of God, made in His image with dignity.
The next five weeks of catechism class promises to be interesting and revealing. What do young people think of our culture of decadence, relativism and objectification? Are they secretly yearning for more out of a relationship than sexual pleasure? Do they resent the pressures of secular culture? Will they fix the destruction wrought on us by our parents’ sexual revolution?
Time will tell.